One of the oldest, most common, and oft-repeated adages you hear when raising or teaching kids is this:
They don’t do what you say, they do what you do.
Younger kids – and early teens – also tend to think like you think and take the attitudes you take about things happening in the world, like politics, current events, sports, and entertainment. Sure, they have their own tastes, they’re their own people, and they’re not exact clones of you in every way, but home – and parents – is where and how most kids form their first attitudes towards just about everything.
In 2020 in the U.S., that means they probably form their attitudes towards COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic, and the array of business closures, shelter-in-place orders, and social distancing guidelines based on what you say about them.
More important than what you say about them, though, is what you do in response to them. Because that old adage didn’t come from nowhere. Countless generations of parents, teachers, and people who work with kids confirm its truth from any angle you care to analyze it.
That brings us to question in the title of this article:
Are you modeling appropriate behavior during the COVID-19 lockdown?
While you think about your answer – from the kids do what you say, not what you do perspective – let’s talk about what that means.
Necessary Trips, Social Distancing, Handwashing
First, we should clear something up.
We write this article from the perspective that COVID-19 is real and it’s deadly. It’s not the flu. We don’t think the prevalence numbers are exaggerated. Nor do we think they’re part of a grand conspiracy to control the citizenry and force us all into some new level of obedience or subservience. As interesting as conspiracy theories can be, and as fun as they can be to entertain as thought experiments at times, we find no such fun, entertainment, or value in COVID conspiracies. While the future could prove us entirely wrong, we’re going with what the doctors tell us: COVID is real, COVID is here, COVID is deadly, and we should all take it very seriously.
Now, to the question at hand: what exactly does it mean to model appropriate behavior during the coronavirus pandemic?
Here’s a quick list:
- It means you do not take unnecessary trips. You follow the orders out in place by your state or local government. You go to the grocery store as little as possible – once a week, perhaps – unless you run out of an essential item. Also, you go out for medical reasons, you go out for exercise, and you go out to help or check on people that need help or need being checked on – and that’s about it.
- It means you maintain social distance at all times, even when everyone else is not. This means at the grocery store – and in all public spaces – you’re patient, you give space, and you wait until you can safely do whatever it is you need to do while maintaining six feet of space. You do not brush by people to grab something off the shelf, you do not sneak around someone to get down the aisle or in the door. You wait. Patiently. Because it’s the right thing to do.
- It means you wash your hands all the time. After you go out. After you touch something that delivered from out in the world. Wash them anytime you have a spare moment. Wash for twenty seconds with soap and warm water. Also, you keep your hands away from your face as much as possible, but especially when out in public.
- It means you wear a face covering when you go out. If you go out to work in the garden or take a walk around the block, bring your face covering with you in case you meet people you want to talk to, or end up running or jogging through a park where there are lots of other people around. If you plan to go anywhere indoors, like the grocery store, wear a face covering.
- It means you don’t undermine items 1-4 on this list through speech or action. That’s simple: follow the rules and refrain from criticizing them in front of your children. If you must kvetch about these rules, do it out of earshot of your kids.
These five behaviors, on your part, show your children and teens the proper way to behave during the coronavirus pandemic.
Do the Right Thing
Remember: your kids will do as you say, not as you do. Right now, the right thing means to follow the rules, stay home, and flatten the curve. You set the tone in your home. Respect the rules, listen to the experts, and your kids will do the same. Ignore the rules, question the experts, and your kids will do the same. This has never been more important. As the experts say at various press briefings and updates around the country every day, what we do today affects the way our lives will look tomorrow, a month from now, six months from now, and a year from now.
In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH:
“How we react…determines our fate.”
In your home, how you act determines how your kids act. We encourage you all to react in a manner consistent with the guidelines published by medical experts. That’s the safest path forward for you, your children, and our entire country.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.